National Coordinator, Mangroves for the Future Pakistan, IUCN Pakistan
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) organized a two day Regional Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation in Asia on 24–25March, 2015, at PC Hotel, Karachi. The symposium was held under the USAID Small Grants and Ambassador Funds Program (SGAFP) project ‘Saving the Endangered Sea Turtles on coastal areas of Pakistan’ being implemented by IUCN Pakistan.
The two day symposium was attended by marine turtle conservation experts from regional countries, including Abu Dhabi, Bangladesh, Germany, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan. Representatives from US Consulate Karachi, Pakistan Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan Marine Fisheries Department, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD), Sindh Fisheries Department, Balochistan Forest & Wildlife Department, Sindh Coastal Development Authority, World Wide Fund For Nature Pakistan, private sector organisations, academia, and IUCN Pakistan, including the IUCN Global Vice President and Regional Councilor West Asia, Regional Director IUCN Asia, and several other government and civil society organizations from the Balochistan and Sindh provinces, were in attendance.
The inaugural session of the symposium was held on 24th March 2015 under the Chairmanship of Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Islamabad. Welcoming the delegates, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative IUCN Pakistan, provided an overview of the IUCN’s partnership with USAID under SGAFP as the pioneering engagement. He mentioned that turtle conservation was one of the first initiatives of IUCN Pakistan in the mid-eighties. Mr. Khan acknowledged SGAFP and its project partners’ support during project implementation.
Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah, National Coordinator MFF Program IUCN Pakistan, gave a presentation on USAID Sea Turtle Project and briefed the participants about the project objectives and achievements. Mr. Shah explained how the project has contributed to the overall sea turtle conservation plan by creating awareness, building capacity of local communities, and contributing to implementation of national and international policies related to sea turtle conservation. His presentation was followed by the screening of a documentary on sea turtles produced under the project.
Mr. Shaukat Hussain, Director General Marine Fisheries Department, appreciated the IUCN efforts in improving the knowledge and skills of fishermen with regard to implementation of TEDs in shrimp trawling nets through demonstrations and training. He specifically mentioned the visit of the US State Department inspection team,on18-20 November, 2014, to assess the turtle conservation program being implemented in Pakistan. The inspection team recommended certifying Pakistan to continue its export of shrimp to the U.S.A. Mr. Hussain said that the seafood needs to be harvested in a manner not harmful to sea turtles.
Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director, IUCN Asia, described turtles as an integral component of coastal ecosystems and livelihoods and explained that sea turtles are an indicator species of the health of an ocean because of their functional importance in marine ecosystems. She described the Pakistan sea turtle conservation programme as one of the longest run initiatives of the Sindh government, continuous since the 1970s.IUCN and its members have supported the provincial government’s efforts through strategic planning, capacity building and creating awareness about the importance of conserving sea turtles.
Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, the Federal Secretary of Ministry of Climate Change, highlighted the importance of “respecting other species on earth” and described why the survival of threatened and seemingly insignificant species was essential for the overall health of the planet. He emphasized the role of the Ministry of Climate Change, which, under its mandate, should bring together experts to discuss and deliberate on environmental issues. Mr. Khan said the private sector, being a potential partner and also a beneficiary, needed to come forward and take steps to ensure that international obligations were met so that the export of seafood remained uninterrupted and marine life was not threatened.
The inaugural session was followed by four technical sessions on sea turtle conservation related themes during which eleven technical papers were presented. Each paper was followed by a Question and Answer session.
Chair: Syed Mahmood Nasir, Inspector General of Forest, Ministry of Climate Change
Co-Chair: Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director, IUCN Asia
Ms. Clara Nobbe, Coordinator of the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding Secretariat, highlighted the objectives of the IOSEA that is mandated to manage marine species, including sea turtles, in the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. She said that the primary objective of the organization is to ensure the conservation and optimum utilization of fish stocks and has paid increasing attention in recent years to the impacts of its fisheries on other marine species, including seabirds and sharks.
The paper was presented by Dr. Nicolas Pilcher on behalf of Mr. Syed Abdullah bin Syed Abdul Kadir and Nazuki bin Sulong, Malaysian Department of Fisheries, comparing two TED (Turtle Excluder Device) models used in Malaysia: the super-shooter TED designed by NOAA, and an innovate model designed in Malaysia following the fundamental principles of the NOAA model which was tested and accepted by the local monsoon shrimp trawl fishermen. The trial study demonstrated to the fishermen that the use of TEDs led to better catch quality, reduced the cost of fuel, and increased overall efficiency in the fishing activity.
Dr Nicolas Pilcher, Co-chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, presented findings of the studies conducted with SGAFP funding using interviews with 300 fishermen targeting shrimp and fish and monitoring through sea trials. The study assessed the current state of the fishery, the rate of turtle bycatch, and TED uptake. According to the study findings, 87% of fishers reported catching turtles accidentally in their nets last year. Most of them reported to have caught one turtle, but their number could exceed 10 turtles per boat per year. Green and olive ridley turtles made up the bulk of the bycatch, but loggerheads and occasional leatherback were also reported. “When these values are extrapolated fishery-wide, they could account for 1,817 to 2,381 turtle deaths in the last year alone”. Although fishers reported that the bycatch trend was on the decline, this was likely linked to the overall number of turtles rather than any change in practices, he added. During the survey, most fishers acknowledged they knew about the TEDs and that they had seen them, and a substantial proportion of them had used a TED at some point in the past but only 7%indicated they used them now. A number of fishers indicated having trouble using TEDs (losing catch), and this created resentment that resulted in TED removal. Dr Pilcher added that Pakistan was a registered TED user nation with the US Department of State, but the implementation of TED regulations had been scarce for many years. He highlighted the need for a diverse program of trials and demonstrations, along with the development of a technical TED team, to reintroduce TEDs amongst fishers and save sea turtles in Pakistan.
Chair: Ghulam Mohammad Mahar, D.G Sindh Fisheries Department
Co-Chair: Ms. Clara Nobbe, Coordinator, IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Secretariat, Germany.
Mr. Mohammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Adviser on Marine Resources to the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, highlighted the findings of a study initiated in October 2012 on monitoring of fishing operations in coastal and offshore areas of Pakistan. The study revealed that, in the pelagic gillnet operations in the offshore water, get enmeshed resulting in observed mortality in 3% cases. The maximum number of turtles killed in one such operation was 5. He reported that an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 turtles caught in the pelagic gillnets were released annually. Turtles were rarely caught in trawl nets, and he regarded fishing gears used in creeks as not harmful for turtles due to their absence from creek systems. He added that a large number of turtles were enmeshed in monofilament nets along the Sindh and Balochistan coast, however, in almost all cases the turtle was observed to be alive because of the shorter duration of the operation and light weight of the gear. He reported that only one species, the green turtle, currently nested along the coast of Pakistan. Olive ridley turtles used to nest along the coast, but no records of its nesting had been authenticated for the past 12 years. Mr. Khan also confirmed the occurrence of loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles in the coastal waters of Pakistan.
Mr. M. Zahirul Islam, Executive Director, Marine Life Alliance, Bangladesh gave a presentation on sea turtle monitoring and conservation status in Bangladesh. He highlighted the status of the five species of sea turtles and their nesting and nesting grounds in the Bay of Bengal and adjacent coasts. Mr. Islam presented an account of conservation measures implemented by MarineLife Alliance since 2000 at St. Martins Island, Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar Peninsular beach, and at Sonadia Island, including the release of 40-50 thousand hatchlings into the sea each year, and satellite tracking of sea turtles to gather critical information on their marine foraging habitat.
Describing the threats to sea turtles in Bangladesh, he mentioned that bycatch; egg poaching, predation, beach alteration and tourism expansion as being the main threats along the south eastern coast at Cox’s Bazar and St. Martins Is. He emphasized the need to initiate community based conservation and monitoring.
Chair: Javed Ahmed Mahar, Conservator of Wildlife Sindh, Karachi
Co-Chair: Dr. Donna Kwan
Mr. Thushan Kapurusinghe, Project Leader, TCP, described the management of sea turtle hatcheries in Sri Lanka. Based on findings of an investigative study conducted in 2011, he mentioned that all existing marine turtle hatcheries management in the in the southern coastal belt of Sri Lanka were deficient and operating illegally. The study revealed scientific weakness in hatcheries management in terms of keeping too many hatchlings in tanks together, mixing different species of hatchlings in tanks, delayed reburying of eggs, keeping critically endangered hawksbills, releasing hatchlings during the day time, taking turtles out of the tanks for photos, and releasing hatchlings from the same place each day.
Based on study findings, hatchery managers were trained according to management guidelines provided by the National Action Plan for Sea Turtles in Sri Lanka, and to keep records about the species and number of eggs they purchase, hatching success, and incidence of disease. Hatchery owners requested the Wildlife Department to issue an identity card for their turtle egg suppliers, but both wildlife officials and lawyers maintained that the existing environmental laws prohibited issuing such licenses to individuals to collect sea turtle eggs.
Mr. Syed Najam Khurshid, Pakistan, presented findings from a baseline study conducted in 2010-11 to record the nesting, distribution and current status of marine turtles along the Sindh coast from Cape Monze to Keti Bunder. The study assessed various environmental and social factors, focusing on nesting sites and interaction of local people with marine turtles, including potential nesting sites, migration pattern, beach encroachment, and environmental pollution. The study emphasized that community-based sea turtle conservation initiatives have not yet been made a priority. He urged the need to develop turtle conservation strategies based on an integrated approach towards conservation.
Chair: Dr. Nick Pilcher, Co-Chair IUCN Turtle Specialist Group
Co-chair: Mr. Shamsul Haq Memon, Ex-Secretary, Forests & Wildlife and Environment Dept. Karachi
Dr. Fahmida Firdous, Ex-Conservator of Wildlife Department, Sindh, Pakistan, presented an account of various conservation efforts carried out since 1972 by Sindh Wildlife Department at Sandspit and Hawkes Bay beaches along the Karachi Coast. These conservation measures included protection of nesting turtles, eggs and hatchlings from poachers and predators, tagging, and tag recoveries. She claimed that up to December 2013, 28,339 nests, comprising 2,383,981 eggs, have been transferred to protected enclosures, and 717,588 hatchlings were released safely to the sea. In addition, more than 7,940 turtle were tagged, and 650 tag recoveries have been recorded.
Ms. Bui Thi Thu Hien, Marine and Coastal Resources Programme Coordinator, VietNam, described community based sea turtle conservation efforts in VietNam. She suggested that laws alone do not work unless communities were involved in conservation and the decision-making process. Despite taking several conservation measures in VietNam, such as monitoring nesting females and clutches, community involvement, as well as awareness campaigns, the number of nesting and foraging marine turtles in VietNam has decreased in comparison to the populations in 2003. At present, only three species (green, hawksbill and leatherbacks) still nest in VietNam as a consequence of several decades of over-exploitation, coastal development for sandy aquaculture and hotel construction, by-catch issues, habitat degradation, and climate change. She emphasized the need for long-term research to fill the knowledge gaps. She claimed that the conservation efforts initiated by IUCN VietNam during the last decade have helped in capacity building of local communities and other stakeholders, which has resulted in a shift in attitudes, changes in fishing practices and bycatch reporting, and an increase in volunteerism.
Mr. Thushan Kapurusinghe, Project Leader of TCP Sri Lanka, presented a case study of community based sea turtle conservation in Rekawa Sanctuary where local community members of Rekawa exploited marine and coastal resources, including collection of sea turtle eggs, due to poverty and lack of awareness. The Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) initiated community based conservation work in 1996, which integrated community livelihood development and conservation. TCP has formed different Community Based Organisations (CBO), such as the community batik group, fish breeding group, sewing group, coir mat making group, and bee keeping group, and has provided alternative livelihood development skills training and equipment to the CBO members. The initial capital needs were met through the revolving fund scheme.
Dr Donna Kwan, Program Management Officer, CMS Dugong MoU Secretariat, UAE, in her paper highlighted knowledge gaps related to nature and extent of marine debris as a threat to the long-lived marine vertebrates (marine megafauna) such as marine turtles, cetaceans and dugongs in the North-West Indian Ocean (NWIO) region. Marine megafauna are known to ingest or become entangled in anthropogenic debris that has either been deliberately discarded or lost in the oceans, including interactions with ‘ghost’ gear–nets, lines and traps that are abandoned, lost or discarded in our ocean- and active fishing gear. She described a Regional bycatch Initiative aimed at addressing the lack of baseline data that has been prepared for Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. The proposal presents an important opportunity to work with all relevant government authorities and interested stakeholders to (1) assess the status of knowledge of the bycatch of marine megafauna, (2) understand the policy and regulatory frameworks, if any, in place, and (3) inform management and decision-making in the NWIO region of the impact of fishing gear on marine megafauna.
The closing was organized for the 25 March 2015 and was chaired by Dr.Sikandar Mandhro, Provincial Minster of Law, Parliamentary Affairs, Environment and Sindh Coastal Development Authority, and attended by Mr. Alexander Orr, Economic Officer, US Consulate Karachi, Syed Mahmood Nasir, Inspector General of Forests, Ministry of Climate Change, Mr. Malik Amin Aslam, IUCN Global Vice President and Regional Councillor West Asia, Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director IUCN Asia, Bangkok and representatives of various government and civil society organisations belonging to Balochistan and Sindh provinces and media.
The closing ceremony started with a welcome address by Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan. This was followed by a symposium summary and regional perspective of threats facing sea turtles by Dr Nicolas Pilcher, Co-Chair, IUCN Turtle Specialist Group. He emphasized regional collaboration and learning by quoting examples of successful implementation of TED program in Malaysia and community based sea turtle conservation in Sri Lanka. He said problems were not the same everywhere; therefore, there is not one solution that is applicable to all countries. The solutions need to be custom-tailored for issues at hand in each country. He stressed the importance of sharing conservation ideas through communication, maintaining links, and contacts, knowledge sharing and case studies.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Alexander Orr appreciated and congratulated IUCN Pakistan on the successful implementation of the USAID-SGFAP funded sea turtle conservation project. He stated that sea turtle conservation was a regulatory requirement under US law. It is essential that any export of shrimp to US from TED registered nation complies with US regulations. He stated that a two member inspection delegation from US consisting of Mr. Jack Forester and Mr. Stephen Wilger visited Pakistan during November 2014 to monitor compliance of these regulations, and trained officials of Marine Fisheries Department and fisherfolk in installation of TED. As per recommendations of the inspection team, Pakistan has been certified to export shrimp to U.S. Mr. Alexander also briefly mentioned about USAID grant priorities to support economic development in Pakistan.
During the closing session, Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji described the symposium as a good way of sharing regional experience and networking for nature conservation. She mentioned that IUCN was working on several regional initiatives related to mangrove conservation, trans-boundary collaboration in water management and aspired for a regional partnership on species conservation. Sea turtles are an apt representation of the trans-boundary and geographically contiguous work of the Asia region through their migratory nature. She appreciated USAID-SGAFP support to IUCN for wildlife conservation in Pakistan and hoped that this partnership would flourish in future.
In his remarks, Mr. Malik Amin Aslam, IUCN Global Vice President shared that Pakistan’s sea territory has expanded by an additional 50,000 square kilometers, allowing more area for our conservation work.
Dr. Sikandar Mandhro, the Chief Guest at the closing session, appreciated the role of IUCN in organization of the regional symposium and inviting experts from different regional countries to discuss and debate environmental issues. He viewed such events as important to bridge gaps in knowledge and conservation practices, and helpful in guiding conservation policies and priorities.
The closing session ended with vote of thanks offered by Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan to the chief guest, representative of US Consulate Karachi international and national delegates, representatives of various government and non-government organizations, private sector, media and IUCN.
Mangroves for the Future Programme, IUCN Pakistan.
In Pakistan, sea turtles nest at Hawkesbay and Sandspit beaches in Sindh province, and on a few beaches, including Ormara, Tak, and Daran, in Balochistan. The project ‘Saving the Endangered Sea Turtles in Coastal Areas of Pakistan’ was sponsored by USAID Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program. The project was implemented for the period of one year, between April 2014 to April 2015 and its partners included: Climate Change Division, Government of Pakistan; National Coordinating Body of Mangroves for the Future Programme, Marine Fisheries Department (MFD), Government of Pakistan; Wildlife & Forest Department, Government of Sindh; Wildlife & Forest Department, Government of Balochistan; and, Worldwide Fund for Nature Pakistan.
The proposed project focused on implementing some of the actions suggested in the Strategic Plan for Conservation of Marine Turtles in Pakistan (2010), a plan prepared through a consultative process with technical support provided by Dr. Nicolas J. Pilcher of the Marine Research Foundation, Malaysia. The capacity of the Master Trainers and other fishers was further strengthened through a training conducted by Mr. Jack Forester, Fisheries Gear Specialist, Officer of Marine Conservation US Department of State, Washington, D.C. in the office of Marine Fisheries Department, Karachi.
Significant threats to sea turtles in coastal areas of Pakistan include fishing nets, degradation and encroachment of nesting beaches, and coastal pollution. Because of the highly migratory nature of sea turtles, and the challenges to conducting robust demographic studies, it is difficult to estimate the overall population size of marine turtles in Pakistan. There is, however, evidence that some sea turtle populations have declined dramatically in recent decades. From 1981 to 1983, nearly 6,000 green turtles and 200 Olive Ridley turtles nested on the beaches of Hawksbay and Sandspit (Kabraji and Firdous,1984).In 1987, 113 olive ridley turtle nests were recorded (Wildlife of Pakistan, 2009), but no olive ridley turtle nesting has been reported in Pakistan since 2003 (Zaheer et.al. 2010). In 2007, 2372 green turtles nested at the Hawksbay and Sandspit but there have been no records for this species since. Considering the apparent declines in sea turtle abundance in Pakistan, there is an urgent need to mitigate the ongoing threats to local populations and increase local awareness about the importance of conservation efforts aimed at recovering the local populations.
The continental shelf of Pakistan is heavily used for commercial and artisanal fishing. The use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in fishing nets is mandatory under Pakistan’s marine fisheries regulations, and Section 609 of US public law 101-162 prohibits the import of shrimp into the United States of America unless a country’s shrimping programme requires shrimp fishing trawlers to use TED’s comparable in effectiveness to those used in the USA, and the country has a credible enforcement system in place. The Provincial Government of Sindh and Federal Government of Pakistan have already notified fisheries about the legislative requirements concerning installation and monitoring of TEDs in shrimp trawl nets employed in territorial waters, as well as in the waters beyond 12 nautical miles in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Pakistan, to ensure safe escapement of sea turtles from the shrimp trawl nets.
Pakistan is also a signatory to a number of global conventions and treaties related to marine resources conservation, including the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (IOSEA). The IOSEA MoU is an intergovernmental agreement under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. In addition, Pakistan is signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Therefore, this project contributes to the Government of Pakistan’s compliance to these international obligations.
The project goal was to promote the conservation of sea turtles in Pakistan. Its’ main objective was to reduce the mortality of sea turtles during fishing operations along Sindh and Balochistan coasts. The project focused on promoting awareness and capacity building of communities and coastal resources managers in the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in order to reduce mortality of sea turtles in fishing operations, prevent damage to the fishers nets, and create opportunities for nature based ecotourism, education, and livelihood support for the local communities.
The project was implemented successfully in coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. The project, although small in size and duration, contributed greatly to the conservation of sea turtles in Pakistan and on-going efforts of the Pakistan Government to ensure compliance with TED regulations.
The overall impact of the project can be measured by the policy level achievement of the Government of Pakistan in having Pakistan positively certified for shrimp export by the inspection team of US Department of State, which visited Pakistan in November 2014. Although the use of TEDs had previously been a regulatory requirement both under US and Pakistani regulations, there was little effort to encourage its application.
The project’s main objective, to reduce the mortality of sea turtles during fishing operations along Sindh and Balochistan coasts, was achieved in several ways. Previously, there was little information available about the mortality of sea turtles in fishing operations in the coastal areas of Pakistan, nor was their data on the use of TEDs in trawl fisheries. Our survey revealed that a large proportion (87%) of fishers reported incidental bycatch of sea turtles in their nets in the past year, and extrapolated data suggested the fishery wide bycatch rate of sea turtles could range from 1817 to 2381 turtles in the last year alone. Most fisherfolk knew what TEDs were and had seen them; a substantial proportion (70%) had used a TED at some point in the past, but only 7% indicated they currently used them. Eight ‘Master Trainers’ were selected from local communities and trained in installation of TEDs in shrimp trawl nets. The Master Trainers, along with two representatives from MFD and the project staff, participated in at-sea trials to monitor the performance of installed TEDs to further strengthen the participants’ understanding of TED implementation and use.
The Master Trainers were further utilized for providing hands on training to other fisherfolk in Sindh and Balochistan in installation of TEDs and in sea turtle conservation. In total, the project trained 126 community members in TED installation and distributed 100 aluminium TEDs for installation. The TEDs were designed with support from international sea turtle experts and modified as per recommendations of the US Inspection Team expert, Mr. Jack Forester, Fisheries Gear Specialist, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Washington. The inspection team recommended increasing the TED size from 34´´x 41´´ to 42´´x 52´´ as the trawl nets used in Pakistan were bigger than in other countries. In order to facilitate capacity building in other fisherfolk, an illustrated TED Installation Manual and Rescue Guidelines was prepared in the local languages; Urdu, Sindhi and Balochi, in collaboration with MFD.
The project also engaged with local communities in Sindh and Balochistan through regular monthly meetings. Under the project, 22 community meetings were held with the target communities at the project sites in Ormara Balochistan (villages: Ball, Taaq, Chandi, Hud/Soomar, Ormara, Takka, Seekone, and KundMalir) and along the Karachi coast in Sindh province (villages: Kakapir, Baba Bhit, Rehri, Mubarak, AbdurRehman, Salehabad, Bangla, Shamspir, and Manjhar). During these meetings, 358 community members learned about the importance of sea turtles in coastal ecosystem, and the potential for sea turtle mortality in fishing operations.
In addition to community meetings, the project celebrated World Turtle Day, International Biodiversity Day, and World Wetlands Day with the local communities on Sandspit beach. Approximately 360 children from local schools and community members, representatives of government departments and members of civil society participated, and learned about the ecological importance of sea turtles. A short documentary on sea turtles was also developed, and will continue to be used to raise awareness among local communities beyond the project life.
To promote regional knowledge and experience sharing, a Regional Symposium on Conservation of Sea Turtles in Asia was organized at Karachi on 24–25 March 2015. This was the first meeting of its kind in Pakistan, and is described on page 33-38 in this issue of IOTN.
Kabraji, A.M. & F.F. Asrar, 1984. Conservation of turtles at Sandspit and Hawkes Bay, Pakistan. World Wildlife Fund Project 1451. Unpublished Report, WWF International and Sindh Wildlife Management Board: 52 p.
Wildlife of Pakistan 2009. Olive Ridley Turtle. https://www.wildlifeofpakistan.com/ReptilesofPakistan/oliveridleyturtle.htm Accessed on 30th July 2015.
Zaheer, M.K., S.A. Ghalib & B. Hussain. 2010. Status and new nesting sites of sea turtles in Pakistan. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 9: 119-123.
President, International Sea Turtle Society
The 35th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation was held in Dalaman, Mugla-Turkey on 18-24 of April, 2015. The theme of the symposium was “Hospitality”. It was chosen as meeting participants attended from around the world and hospitality reflected Turkey’s friendly and inviting culture. Furthermore, Turkey brought everyone together, “bridging the civilizations”, bridging Europe, Asia and Africa. This was a great opportunity for the people from these continents to participate in the Symposium, as it was easier for them to travel from their home countries. Besides the regular sessions normally held at past symposia, specific to the meeting in Turkey, we celebrated “World Children Day” on April 23rd with special sessions for children’s activities. Without a doubt, today’s children are the future sea turtle researchers and conservationists, and so we wanted to ensure that we pass our mission on to the younger generation.
A total of 610 people from 80 countries registered for the Symposium. An additional 250 local students and educators attended particular sessions. The venue for the symposium was the Hilton Hotel-Dalaman, Turkey. The program included 4regional meetings(Africa, IOSEA, Retomala and East Asia), 9 workshops, 2 special sessions (Mediterranean Turtle Conference and Freshwater Turtle Session), and a Video Night that showed 12 videos. In addition to the regular sessions, we hosted the 5th Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles. A total of 135 oral papers and 230 posters were presented.
Workshops: A total of 9 workshops were offered the weekend before the symposium started. These were the Fourth Workshop on Stabile Isotope Techniques in Sea Turtle Research: Lessons Learned and Future Steps, Temperature-dependent Sex Determination, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation and Health, GIS, Tourism and Turtles, Biologging For Sea Turtles, Fisheries Observer Programs: Key to Successful Fisheries Management, Children Activities and New Techniques. The first parts of two of the workshops were held on Thursday, 23rdApril 2015.Unfortunately, the Novel techniques for Environmental Campaigning Workshop that was scheduled cancelled. The attachment of four satellite devices and releasing of sea turtles within the Biologging for Sea Turtles Workshops II and Children workshop activities were carried out at DEKAMER Sea Turtle rescue center. This event attracted many local people and authorities as well as the children. A 3D printed Jaw was attached to an injured turtle on 23rd of April, attracting many local and international media. These activities overlapped with ISTS’ mission that ISTS brings people together to promote the exchange of information that advances the global knowledge of sea turtle biology and conservation.
Pre-symposium Meetings: The 5th Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles and the Terrapin, Tortoise & Freshwater Meetings were two main pre-symposium meetings. The regional meetings for Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and Indian Ocean & South East Asia were also held. The Marine Turtle Specialist Group meeting was set on Wednesday 22ndof April, 2015.
Key Note Speakers: Three keynote speakers delivered three 30 minutes addresses to symposium participants. Richard Reina’s presentation gave the audience a comprehensive overview of the topic Climate Change and Sea Turtles: What It is, What it isn’t and What we need to do about it, which nicely served after the opening ceremony to all of the symposium participants. Mohd Uzair Rusli gave his keynote speech on Synchronous Activity Lowers: The Energetic Cost of Nest Escape by Green Turtle Hatchlings in the Nesting Biology-I session on Tuesday 21stof April, 2015. On Wednesday, 22ndof April 2015, Kate Mansfield gave her speech at the In-Water Biology-II session on Out With the Old, In With the New Hypothesis: Swimming Behavior and Ontogenetic Habitat Shifts Among Wild-Caught Oceanic Stage Turtles. All three addresses were excellent and very well received by the audience.
Symposium Sessions: This symposium included traditional sessions held at previous symposia, such as Anatomy, Physiology and Health; In-Water Biology Session (Ecology, Telemetry, Foraging, Behavior); Nesting Biology (Ecology, Behavior, and Reproductive Success), Population Biology and Monitoring (Status, Modeling, Demography, Genetics, Nesting Trends, In-Water Trends), Fisheries and Threats Session; Conservation, Management and Policy; Education, Outreach And Advocacy; and Social, Economic and Cultural Studies. In addition to those sessions, we also scheduled poster discussion hours for each session and these were found very productive to meet with all presenters in one room, and facilitated by chairs.
Business Meeting: Very important issues were addressed during the plenary business meeting conducted the last day of the symposium. The travel committee report, the Treasurer’s report and other issues related to our society were discussed.
ISTS Elections: The report of the ISTS Nominations Committee presented the following names of the winners of the 2015 Elections: President Elect- FrankPaladino, Board of Directors- Andrea Phillottý and Laura Prosdocimi, and Nominations Committee- Michael Jensen, Thushan Kapurusingheý and Andy Estrades.
Board meeting: The Board meeting was held on Tuesday 21stof April, 2015. The meeting was fruitful and lasted until midnight. The Board received and discussed reports from the Nominations Committee, Student Committee, Travel Committee, Students Awards Committee, Awards Committee, as well as reports from the Treasurer.
Student Committee: Since its inception at the 31st Symposium, the ISTS Student Committee has played an increasingly important role in the meeting. For the meeting in Turkey, the Committee was chaired by Itzel Sifuentes and Adriana Cortez. Student participation in the Symposia is critical to the future of our Society’s mission, and we commend and encourage continued productive activity by the Student Committee. They organised around 50 volunteer evaluators to provide valuable presentation feedback for about100 students that requested it. They were actively involved in new techniques workshop and organized Student Committee Mixer on Tuesday afternoon.
Travel grants: A total of 162 registrants received a travel grant at ISTS35. This level of travel grant awards represents about 25% of the total registered participants. Travel grants took the form of room and board grants, which was highly advantageous for the awardees and for the Society. Only 16 people who received Travel Grant have to cover their food shares. The Travel Grant Committee was chaired by Alexander Gaos, with Angela Formia, Kelly Stewart, Karen Eckert, Alan Rees, Alejandro Fallabrino, Aliki Panagopolou, Maggie Muurmans, Andrea Phillott and Emma Harrison as members. Participant distribution for Travel Grant was 28 % from Europe, 18 % from America, 14 % from US/Canada and %14 CA/America, 11% from Africa, 7% from Asia-Pacific and 4% from South Asia and 4% from Middle East.
Social Events: Welcome Social, Live and Silent Auctions, Farewell party, Student Awards were some of the social events held during the symposium. A welcome cocktail and Turkish Folk Dance were performed on Sunday evening. Children performed folk dances on Sunday and Monday evenings. The popular “Speed Chatting with the Sea Turtle Experts” session made an appearance on Wednesday afternoon and was enjoyed by the experts as well as the participants that plied them with questions on topics ranging from techniques to career advice. On Tuesday evening, Video Night provided informative entertainment to Symposium participants as they enjoyed 12 video presentations from around the world. On the final day of the Symposium, together with the Gala dinner, the Archie Carr Student Awards and the ISTS Awards were followed. The formal portion of the evening closed with words of appreciation from the President and the ceremonial passing of the ISTS Presidential Trowel to incoming President Joanna Alfaro Shigueto. On Friday, we organized three tours and participants visited Pamukkale, Ephesus and Dalyan lagoons.
Auctions: The proceeds from the annual Live and Silent auctions contribute to Travel Grant funding for students and international participants. We had the usual fantastic response from the sea turtle community in the way of unique donated items for both auctions. With ISTS promoting a more socially responsible outlook, the Auction Team found themselves pushed to the limits to find creative and fun ways to raise funds. The results of their efforts were brilliant and provided new paying and entertaining activities, including “Jail and Bail” and “A Sea Turtle Beauty Pageant”. The live auctioneer Rod Mast did again an excellent job. The dedication of Auction Chairs, Jennifer Homcy and Marina Zucchini, for the success of these important events is appreciated by all.
Awards: During the gala dinner, a series of awards were made to prominent members of our society. Lily Venizelos and Henri Reichart were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for their extensive and significant contributions to the promotion of sea turtle biology and conservation. Awards were also given to Kutlay Keco for Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism, Flegra Bentivegna for Champions Award. President’s Awards were given to Ibrahim Baran and June Haimoff. Congratulations to the all awardees.
Archie Carr Student Awards: There were 41 oral presentations and 67 poster presentations entered by students in the Archie Carr Student Awards. The Program Chairs worked with the Student Award Chairs to minimize conflicting student presentation times, thereby ensuring all student presentations were seen by the judges, but we encourage future Program Chairs to liaise with the Student Award Chairs early in the planning process to minimize the requirement for last minute work by all parties. Judges of the presentations in Turkey were: Ana Barragan, Cynthia Lagueux, Dave Owens, Emma Harrison, Kate Mansfield, Marc Girondot, Mariana Fuentes, Paolo Casale, Ray Carthy, RoldanValverde, Sara Maxwell, ZoeMeletis.The winner for Best Biology Poster was Abilene Colin Aguilar(CICESE, Mexico ). Best Conservation Poster went to Mireia Aguilera Rodà (Univ. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) and runner up was Aurora Oliver de la Esperanza (Univ. Zaragoza, Spain). The Best Biology Oral was won by Natalie Wildermann (James Cook University, Australia) and Joseph Pfaller(University of Florida, USA) was Runner Up. The Conservation Oral winner was Sarah Nelms (University of Exeter, England), and Aliki Panagopoulou (Drexel University, USA) was Runners-Up.
Grassroots Award: The Grassroots Conservation Award is given for the poster or oral presentation that best demonstrates a positive contribution towards the conservation of marine turtles and/or their habitats. This year the Award went to the Fundação Maio Biodiversidade for “Community-based conservation is a key to successful sea turtle protection in Maio Island, Cape Verde” with the authors of Adilson Passos, Amanda Dutra, Franziska Koenen, Alexandra Morais, and Mafalda Navas. The judges were Alejandro Fallabrino, Angela Formia, Jack Frazier, Manjula Tiwari and Ingrid Yanez.
Funding: Generous funding by many entities made it possible for the ISTS35 to be a success. The organizing committee deeply thanks the donors below for their generosity. At the Platinum level ($25,000 and above): Turkish Government (Ministries, Governors and Mayors), Pamukkale University, and Marine Turtle Conservation Fund. At the Gold level ($5,000 – $19,999): WWF-Turkey, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Regional Activity Center, UNEP-RAC/SPA, Istanbul Aquarium and The Ocean Foundation. At the Silver level ($1,000 – $4,999): Hilton-Dalaman, Wildlife Computers, Istanbul SeaLife Aquarium, Sirtrack, Mugla Trade and Commerce Union, BTC Pipeline Company, Disney’s Animal Science and the Environment, Telonics, Mersin Municipality, Vaughan W. Brown Charitable Trust, Bern Convention of European Council. At the Bronze level ($500 – $999): Sea Turtle Conservancy, MEDASSET, Denizli Trade and Commerce Union, The Leatherback Trust, DOKAY, Mac-ART Design Agency.
Vendors: This year’s Vendor tables were Wildlife Computers Inc, Collecte localisation satellite, Wipsea, Kaptan June Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation, Qarapara Sea Turtles Chile NGO, Karumbé, Endangered Wildlife Trust, IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, WWF International, MEDASSET, ARCHELON, Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Carbon Offsets: A meeting the size of the ISTS Symposium represents a considerable use of resources, primarily for travel, but also for onsite lodging and activities. This year, a coordination and follow-through by Erin Seney and Ray Carthy, the ISTS introduced an initiative to offset the carbon footprint of the meeting. The organization made a donation to Carbonfund.org to offset the full on-site footprint of the meeting. We also gave one flask as a gift for participants to use in the future as a way of reducing plastic usage.
Memorial Tribute: During the opening and closing ceremonies of the symposium a we observed one minute of silence in tribute to the lives that were lost since the last symposium especially the recent loss of Prof. Nicholas Mrosovsky.
Acknowledgments: Organizing the symposium took a significant number of hours and effort. The successful organization strongly benefit from the selfless work of a large number of volunteers. My personal thanks goes to all organizing committee members. My deepest thanks go out to every single one of them for their hard work, friendship, and their dedication to the International Sea Turtle Society. Without the vision and generosity of our Sponsors this Symposium would not have been possible, and I thank them all for embracing our interests and cause as their own. The ISTS Board of Directors and its Executive Committee for their guidance and support. Every single one of the various Committee chairs. My Program Officer Ingrid Yanez did a great job of fund raising under trying conditions.
Thanks to: The Program Staff- Oğuz Türkozan, Brian Shamblin and Wayne Fuller and program coordinator Eyüp Başkale and Event Coordinator Dogan Sözbilen and all of the outstanding Session Chairs.
The Logistics Staff- Registrar Serdar Düşen and OlcayDüşen, Volunteer Co-Chairs Natalie E. Wildermann and Can Yılmaz, Onur Candan, Alejandro Fallabrino and Karla G. Barrientos-Muñoz. Exhibitor/Vendor Chair Çisem Sezgin and Nilüfer Araç. Speed Chatting Coordinators; Emma Harrison and Zoe Meletis; Internet Guru Doğukan Mutlu, Logo Designers YıldızDuman Ercan and Mümin İnan. Nominations Committee Chair Nancy Fitzsimmons and members Shaleyla Kelez, Edward Aruna, Milagros Lopez-Mendilaharsuand Alberto Abreu Grobois. ISTS Awards Committee Chair Sally Murphy and members Dean Bagley, Jim Spotila, Brad Nahill and Blair Witherington. Student Committee members Itzel Sifuentes and Adriana Cortez. Student Judging Committee Andrea Phillott and Matthew Godfrey.(Judges of the presentations in Turkey were:Ana Barragan, Cynthia Lageux, Dave Owens, Emma Harrison, Kate Mansfield, Marc Girondot, Mariana Fuentes, Paolo Casale, Ray Carthy, RoldanValverde, Sara Maxwell, ZoeMeletis) Video Night Co-Chairs Anna Stamatiou and Kerem Yekta Atatunç. Poster Chairs Yusuf Katılmış and Serap Ergene Book of Abstract Compilers Yakup Kaska, Bektaş Sönmez, Onur Türkecan and Çisem Sezgin. Chuck Shaffer and Dincer Ayaz for planning the Terrapin, Tortoise, and Freshwater Turtle Meeting. Erin Seney and Ray Carthy for a brilliant effort with the carbon offsets for the Symposium. Robin Snape for English-proof reading.
Workshop organizers Daniela Freggi, Andrew DiMatteo, Sandra Hochscheid, Kate L. Mansfield, Yonat Swimmer, Marc Girondot, Şükran Yalçın Özdilek, Simona Ceriani, Kim Reich, Jeffrey Seminoff, Emine Dinç, Jane Akalay, FikriTürkeş, Ayşe Oruç and Konstantina Kostoula for helping to organize the workshops.
I also thank Luis Cardona Pascual and his organizing committee for organizing 5th Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles within the ISTS35.
Additional gratitude goes to:The schoolchildren and teachers of Muğla Province for their participation in our outreach program. ALL OF THE VOLUNTEERS FROM ISTS AND THE PAMUKKALE UNIVERSITY! Those of you un-named here, but who gave freely of your time, toil, and enthusiasm when I called you.
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